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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                   ^5
It looked as though the new patient was unconscious;
but as soon as the stretcher was placed on the floor he
opened his eyes, rose up on his elbow, looked round the
ward with curiosity, winked at Stepan Ivanovich for some
reason, as much as to say: "How's life, not so bad?" and
gave a deep cough. Evidently his heavy body was severely
battered and he was in great pain. At the first glance
Meresyev did not, for some reason, like the look of this
big bloated figure, and it was with unfriendly eyes that he
watched the two orderlies, two ward maids and the nurse
jointly lift him from the stretcher and place him on the
bed. They awkwardly jerked his stiff, log-like legs, and
Alexei saw the face of the new patient suddenly grow
pallid and break out in beads of perspiration, and he saw
the wince of pain that crossed his lips. But the patient
uttered not a sound; he merely ground his teeth.
As soon as he found himself on the bed, he smoothed
the end of the top sheet over his blanket, piled the books
and notebooks he had brought with him in neat stacks
on top of his bedside cupboard, carefully laid out his
tooth-paste and brush, eau-de-Cologne, shaving tackle
and soap-box on the lower shelf, ran a critical eye over
his handiwork, and then, as if feeling at home at once,
said in a deep, rolling voice:
"Well, let's get acquainted. Regimental Commissar
Semyon Vorobyov. Quiet. Non-smoker. Please, take me
into your company."
He looked round at his wardmates with calm interest,
and Meresyev managed to catch the sharp, critical glance
of his keen, narrow, golden eyes.
"I will not be among you long. I don't know about the
others, but I haven't much time to lie around here. My
troopers are waiting for me. When the ice goes and the
road's dry—I'm off! 'We're the Red Army Cavalry....'
What?" he chattered, filling the ward with his cheerful,
rolling bass voice.
"None of us is here for long. As soon as the ice breaks—
we'll all be off—feet first, into ward number fifty,"
snapped Kukushkin, and abruptly turned to the wall.
There was no ward number fifty in the hospital. That
was the name the patients had given to the mortuary. It
is doubtful whether the Commissar had already heard